My project is to write a grant requesting funding to start a “SpeakOut” type series of writing workshops at Southwest Riverside County Juvenile Detention Center in Murrieta, California. Murrieta is the town just north of Temecula, where I teach high school. What inspired me to do this was an incident a few years ago in which 9 out of 14 of my students in an academic skills class were taken to SWRCJDC after an undercover drug sting at my high school. These were disenfranchised students who were making great progress in my class and had renewed hope of graduating. I approached SWRCDC requesting access to them to continue the tutoring we had started 5 months previous and was shut down with disdain. Specifically, I was told that “these kids had committed serious crimes and were facing serious consequences”. They were busted for selling marijuana. I wasn’t asking to take them to Disneyland; I wanted to provide tutoring for whatever school services SWRCDC provided, knowing from experience that these students needed help succeeding in school. One student watched his brother knifed and killed in a gang dispute at a party on his 13th birthday. That was the year he started failing all his classes in school.
While I knew that these kids would receive schooling per the law, I doubted they would receive any assistance. This has bothered me ever since.
When I became involved with SpeakOut and the CLC, I knew that this is what I wanted to do to provide the young people with a non-academic outlet in which they could explore reading, writing, drawing, sharing and experience publication, which might provide them with a confidence that school did not.
Given the reception I received, I assumed that there wasn’t any type of program already in existence there and my research confirmed this. While I found that there are now opportunities for volunteers to provide assistance to the youth to help them study for the GED, , I did not find any programs that provide opportunities to read and write in a non-traditional manner. My research did, however, uncover a potential ally. California Welfare and Institution Code mandates that each county have a Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Commission (JJDPC) that consists of seven to fifteen members who serve up to two, four-year terms, including two youth, 18-21 years of age, Commissioner positions. All members are community volunteers, private citizens of the United States and residents of Riverside County.
The mission of the JJDPC is:
[…] to inquire into the administration of juvenile court law within Riverside County, to assure the highest standards of care and services for the youth within the juvenile justice system, and to engage in activities designed to prevent juvenile delinquency by coordinating on a countywide basis with community agencies. The JJDPC is dedicated to the promotion of an effective juvenile justice system operated in an environment of credibility, dignity, fairness and respect for the youth of Riverside County.
This commission may be a good ally in establishing a writing workshop within the detention center, as they are the liaison that allows community programs and community volunteers to work with the youth within the system. It’s my intent to contact them first to determine how to proceed in requesting a writing workshop from the detention center itself.
My preliminary research into funding opportunities revealed a variety of grants that are aimed at providing funding for literacy programs and several that are aimed in particular at funding literacy programs for at risk youth. When I conducted a search for literacy grants on California.grantwatch.com, it returned 56 literacy grants. I need to do further research into costs, which I can start by looking at the grants that the CLC has received.
I also contact Barbara Lane, a colleague at the Riverside County Office of Education with whom I’ve worked in the past to inquire as to what the county provides to the youth in Juvenile Hall and whether or not the RCOE might also be an ally in helping me persuade the detention center to allow writing workshops. Ironically, she is the teacher for “court school” and was familiar with some of the students I lost in the drug sweep a couple years ago. She confirmed that there is no such program already there and that since she is well established with the administration at the detention center, she committed to advocating for a writing workshop as well as advocating to the students.